THAT’S NOT MY NAME
Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002
In the world of suspense and dark realism, you’ve usually got to make a choice. Do you want a taut thriller that keeps your heart pounding and your eyes cemented to the page until the very last sentence? Do you want an in-depth character study that places you inside the minds of characters, exploring their fears, hopes, doubts? So few novels in this genre have a bit of both. Fewer still are the ones that combine a perfect balance of the options.
Appreciate what a rare prize That’s Not My Name actually is. Give Yvonne Navarro the recognition she deserves for creating the consummate blend of both worlds in this breathtaking narrative.
Of course, do all of this after you seize one of the first copies of That’s Not My Name and devour it whole. By then, you’ll be able to sing Yvonne Navarro’s praises on your own.
First, the plot. A young woman is snatched in broad daylight and imprisoned by a crazed stranger. More frightening than the kidnapping is the motive behind it; the stranger fervently believes that the woman is his wife. If she doesn’t believe him now, she’ll be his captive until she “remembers” their life together.
A terrifying situation, but the terror only builds as the young woman feels her grasp on reality slipping and begins to doubt her own sanity. It is a disintegration that moves slowly, insidiously. The reader can only watch helplessly in horror.
(Gripping, eh? It was just a hint of that plot that drew me to That’s Not My Name in the first place.)
Navarro could have populated her tale with stick figures and it still would have been rivetting, but that wouldn’t be enough for her. The characters caught up in this complex, baffling nightmare are as three-dimensional as any you will find in literature. And more compelling.
Nola, the kidnap victim, is a puzzle unto herself. Her thin grasp on reality, her blurred past, her compassion, and her vulnerability, make her an unforgettable, tragic figure. Alec, the husband, is a study in grief. Like so many of the characters in That’s Not My Name, his pain is so intense it is excruciating to watch. Jesse, the kidnapper, is infuriatingly convinced, determined to help Nola remember no matter how agonizing the wait.
But, that is only on the victims’ side. Detective Luke Conroy — a bundle of uncertainty, regret, and determination — fills the role of puzzlemaster with a humanity seldom achieved. His dealings with the victims, the witnesses, and his co-workers develop into a subplot that is every bit as engrossing as the main attraction. If anyone can help Nola and the others, there is no doubt that Conroy is that person.
A dizzying array of characters stumble through this labyrinth of deception and abuse. Not a one though, could be omitted without losing an essential part of the mystery.
When it all comes to a close, there is an inescapable realization that none of us is as strong as we’d like to think. What change in your life would be enough to shatter your faith in your own identity? Make you question your view of reality?
Read this disturbing and arresting novel and just… think about it.